After the end of World War II, in the late 19050s to early 1960s, poets began to write from a more personal place. This birthed confessional poetry. Confessional poetry is often referred to as “Confessionalism”. Some of the confessing poets we will be focusing on today are Theodore Roethke and the well-known Sylvia Plath. The poems we will be looking at are some of my favorites we’ve read, so far.
First, let’s take a look at Theodore Roethke’s poem “My Papa’s Waltz” (1948). At first glance, the poem appears to be about a boy being abused by his father. The lines “The hand that held my wrist Was battered on one knuckle; At every step you missed My right ear scraped a buckle.” lead the reader to believe that the speaker is being beaten on purpose or has been abused previously. After further investigation, this may not be the case. From the first line, the reader can decipher that the father is drunk, and the use of the word “waltz” in the title leaves a light, dreamy tone for the poem. This could imply that the father is unaware that he is harming the child, that in his drunken state he believes they are having fun. The mother is described as frowning, possibly meaning that she can see something the little boy can’t, perhaps she is looking at her husband in disappointment. Thus, leading the boy to be extremely confused as to why he is being tossed around by someone he should admire.
Next, let’s examine Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus” (1965). Of the poems we read this week, this one was my favorite. I will admit, the Holocaust references went over my head and left me confused as to why they were in the poem in the first place. However, the tone of this poem caused me to read it quickly, angrily. Throughout the poem, Plath refers to “it”. “It” represents her suicide attempts. She writes, “I am only thirty… This is Number 3. What a trash To annihilate each decade.” These few lines/stanzas made me ache for her. I read these in a sarcastic tone – more toward herself than anyone else, as if she’s displeased with herself for marking each decade with the attempt of escaping the next. The poem is full of sarcasm, almost as if she is mocking those in her life who are happy she is still alive. The lines, “There is a charge For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge For the hearing of my heart——” lead me to believe that she feels like she is being used for her pain. She ridicules the people in her life because she knows they want to read and examine and dive into her agony. The longer she lives, the more she aches; the more she aches, the more she writes; the more she writes, the more there is to dissect. My favorite part of this poem are the last two stanzas:
“Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”
She directly addresses God and Lucifer, who are typically personified as men. She warns them that she is coming, that she has been through hell and back. She has seen it all before and they have nothing against her. She can destroy them simply with her teeth.